The crackdown on Tanzanian’s opposition has been intensified barely a week after President John Pombe Magufuli was sworn in for a second five-year term.
On Sunday the immediate former MP for Arusha Urban Constituency, Godbless Lema, who had served for two terms, was arrested at Ilbissil in Kajiado County after he and his family crossed over through the Namanga border.
Lema had left his home in a taxi accompanied his wife Neema Godbless, their three children and alighted at Namanga.
He said his wife presented documents to immigration officers who refused to stamp them unless she was accompanied by him.
Lema told The Standard when she called him he went to the immigration offices, he told the officers he did not have his passport with him and that he was not accompanying her and the children because she was just going to look for an international school.
The officials allowed the family to cross the border while Lema asked for permission to go and look for Kenyan currency to give to his wife.
As soon as he crossed the border he slipped into his lawyer’s car.
The lawyer, George Luchiri Wajackoyah, was monitoring the situation from the safety of the Kenya side and drove the fugitive MP out of the border town as soon as he and his family entered his car.
As soon as the immigration officials realised that they had been outfoxed, they alerted the Kenyan authorities that a person had entered the country without presenting travel documents.
“The police pursued us and arrested intercept us at Ilbisil where they took us to the local police post. I did not want them to lock up Lema in Ilbisil, owing to its proximity to the Tanzanian border,” lawyer Wajackoyah said.
He added: “Things are very bleak in Tanzania. I am the lawyer acting for Chama Cha Maedendeo na Demokrasia. I knew Lema was coming and wanted to hand him over to the United Nations Human Rights Commission(UNHCR) when he crossed”.
Lema explained that when he reached the immigration department, he declined to hand over his passport because the officials would just detain him.
Tanzanian police had instructed Lema to present himself
“I decided to use a taxi because driving my vehicle would have alerted the police. I have left everything at home. This does not matter now. What is important is my safety and that of my family,” he told The Standard.
“Right now, I am with my wife Neema, my 14-year-old son Allbless, Brilliance(daughter) my last born son Terrence. I do not know what tomorrow holds. I am now looking for asylum,” he added
Wajackoyah said as soon as the US embassy opens today (Monday), he will present Lema’s case as he has been in communication with the political attaché, explaining that opposition leaders in Tanzania are being persecuted.
Wajackoya and Tundu Lissu, who has been on Magufuli’s crosshairs for the last three years were fellow students at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom.
In 2017, Lissu escaped death miraculously after assassins sprayed him with bullets.
The 52-year-old lawyer and human rights activist challenged Magufuli for the presidency in the just concluded and disgrace election where Chadema was whitewashed with CCM claiming victory after garnering 94 per cent of the vote.
Even before the contested polls, there was widespread violence targeting opposition candidates and the few election observers concluded that the October 28 election was neither free nor fair.
According to Lema, Chadema’s presidential candidate, Tundu Lissu is also on the run from the Tanzanian authorities.
“Lissu is staying at the residence of the Germany envoy in Dar es Salaam. Nobody is safe anymore in Tanzania. They want to arrest him. And all prominent Chadema officials for protesting election rigging.”
Explained lawyer Wajackoyah: “A person fleeing from persecution, according to Article 2 of the UNHCR Statute of 1951, does not need to present documents. That is why I have booked him with the police as an asylum seeker so that he can be processed,” the lawyer explained.
There are fears that the majoritarian Chama Cha Mapinduzi will soon change the constitution to allow Magufuli to run for a third term when his second tenure ends in 2025.
Shortly before Magufuli was sworn in, about ten presidential candidates held a joint press conference where they disassociated themselves from the planned demonstrations called by Chadema.
Chadema has vowed not to recognize Magufuli’s win, dismissing the election that handed him a fresh mandate as a mockery of democracy and subversion of the people’s will at the ballot box.
Last week Tanzania police arrested Chadema leader Freeman Bowe and is yet to be released.